MELISSA BLOCK, host:
If you like to curl up under the covers and pull out a good book late at night, this next story is for you. As part of our three books series where a writer suggests books on one theme, Will Layman says there's an alternate reality after midnight, especially in the fantastical pages of these three books.
WILL LAYMAN: Daylight saving time has lapsed and winter is creeping our way. Darkness come sooner and lasts longer with every passing day. I know, I ought to go to bed earlier. But I'm still awake, hunkered in the midnight shadows with my nose in a book, letting my head run wild.
In the first book, Haruki Murakami's "After Dark," the cloak of night moves the world with a different logic. There are two sisters: Eri chooses not to wake for months, watched in her sleep by a mysterious camera. Mari stays awake in a downtown Tokyo Denny's, drenched with Burt Bacharach and fluorescence. Murakami's dreamscape is neon-lit, and it invites his characters to understand the interconnected drift of their lives. None of our principles have any effect here. No one can predict when or where such abysses will swallow people, or when or where they will spit them out.
The title tale from Dashiell Hammett's short story collection "Nightmare Town" is also drenched in mystery. The hero buzzes into the frontier town of Izzard, drunk and on a bet. Over two long nights, the town ensnares the reader in a web of coincidence, deceit, and violence. The night is filled with asthmatic clocks, black streets, and a girl with violet-black eyes.
Hammett's prose sizzles with suspicion. Everything is a scam, a setup, and the rules are rigged against the main character as he tries to understand why everyone in the town is rife with deceit. It's an insomniac's tale if ever there was one - the characters barely sleep, and you won't be able to either.
Finally, my third late-night read is Salman Rushdie's antic history of modern India, "Midnight's Children." This novel insists that the dead of night suspends normal rules of existence. The narrator, Saleem Sinai, is big-nosed and brilliant, whispering in your ear with a combination of mad humor and phantasmagoria. He was born in Bombay on the stroke of midnight on India's Independence Day, when the clock-hands joined palms in respectful greeting. As a result, Sinai is granted the miraculous power of telepathy.
One thousand other 'Midnight's Children' have powers more paranormal. The greater magic, however, is Rushdie's - a literary suspension of the rules that allows you to preach and prank using "1001 Arabian Nights" and "Superman" at the same time. And he does it in a hybrid language that runs from the classical to the profane. It's not a nightmare as much as a fever dream. It will keep you till dawn on its explosive mix of fantasy and bitter history.
These three books will make it hard for you to resist pulling up the covers for a good midnight read. Sure, morning brings exhaustion. But if you can't sleep, it's a joy to glimpse a world where sleeping seems a dull alternative to imagination.
BLOCK: Will Layman is a writer, teacher, and musician. The three books he recommends are "Midnight's Children" by Salman Rushdie, "Nightmare Town" by Dashiell Hammett, and "After Dark" by Haruki Murakami. You can comment on this essay and find more "Three Books" recommendations at npr.org.
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